by Greg Perry (Ask Me Anything Here, I‘ll Reply to You!)
As an author and editor, words are my ammunition.
(Actually, as a gun lover, ammunition is my ammunition too.)
As with guns, I don’t want to waste my ammo cache of words. I want every word to count. Every jot and every tittle. (Yes tittle is a word.) I learned long ago that “less is more.” By that I mean we should never use more words when fewer will be clearer. Much of the editing and proofing process requires deleting a lot of text that we wrote originally.
Rarely does writing need additional words to be more clear.
Perhaps the greatest example of “less is more” in action is Hemingway’s The Old Man in the Sea. I challenge you to find three words in the entire book that are unnecessary.
I enjoy words. For example, I like to spot palindromes (“Madam, I’m Adam,” “A Toyota,” and “Xanax”) when I see them. I enjoy using words in unique ways. I like to put my thoughts on paper. (On the screen to be more accurate.) Unlike talking, when I write the result is more accurate, funnier if I want to be humorous, and better expressed.
In spite of the fact I don’t like to waste words, I enjoy the richness of English. I’m also grateful that I don’t have to learn English as an adult! I’ve been educated in Spanish (decades ago, not much retained) and Italian (much more retained but certainly not fluent) and am about to embark on a serious effort to master Koine Greek (ancient Greek).
Of all the languages one can learn, I believe English would be the hardest. The proof of my assertion that English is the hardest language to learn is only three words long:
I like the richness of English. I dislike the changing of the language through sloppiness and time.
Sadly, changes to English often occur about because people don’t use proper English and after so long, what was once improper becomes accepted. Did you know that the word proved used to be the only past-tense version of the verb prove?
In other words, this is correct:
“It was proved to be inconclusive.”
This was incorrect until the past few years of misuse:
“I was proven to be right.”
The word proven was not part of proper English. I learned this gem in an old edition of E. B. White’s Elements of Style. The newer editions no longer state that proven is not a word. That saddens me. Through use alone, proven fought its way into our language and did its part to make English that much less pure than it was.
Note: If you are a writer but never read the little volume called Elements of Style then shame on you! This is the only book you must read if you want to become a better writer. Other books are helpful too but Elements of Style is the only one you must read.
Some Words Are Redundant
In spite of my desire to keep English pure and unchanged, three words in particular stick in my craw. I would like to see them eliminated.
These three words confuse and encourage incorrect usage.
The words are: spatter and hanged and razed.
The word spatter is a word that describes blood splatter. Did you catch that? At a crime scene, those who know English will say, “There is blood spatter on the wall!” You will never hear a decent Medical Examiner say, “There is blood splatter on the wall!”
But what’s wrong with splatter? To me, we should use the word splatter for blood just as we use it for other things!
Note: Spatter isn’t just for blood but is for any muddy or viscous liquid drops that go flying. And spatter can also be used for just about anything that goes splattering all over the place. But why does the word even exist when we have a perfectly good equivalent with splatter?
I stand firm that we don’t need spatter. My reasoning is sound as always. (You don’t ever need to question me.) The word splatter is perfectly fine when you talk about politicians splattering their names all over billboards and yard signs at election time. And as for me and my house, if splatter is good enough for politicians then it’s good enough for blood too!
It takes room in our brains to know the difference between two words that have identical meanings in every real way. Let’s leave that one little slot in our minds vacant for something more important. I say we use splatter and let spatter be left on the walls of antiquity.
Well, this will be easy because the word hanged should be eliminated for the same reason that splatter should replace spatter.
Hanged is the term used for a human hanged by the neck. According to proper English rules, you never write or say:
“Jesse James was hung at dawn.”
The only correct English would be,
“Jesse James was hanged at dawn.”
By the same token, you never can write or say, “I hanged the picture on the wall.” Pictures are never hanged according to English. You must instead say, “I hung the picture on the wall” if you want to be correct.
But hung is a perfectly good term for both! We use hung for every single thing in the universe that we hang, or that is hung, except people! And I say to that, balderdash! Hung is a perfectly good word for everything we hanged in the past!
Razed means lowered. Got it?
Many of you reading this already know that razed means lowering or demolishing something like a building.
Where it gets confusing is when you say it:
“They razed that building yesterday.”
Anyone in his or her right mind will ask, “How did they build an entire building in one day?”
Razed sounds like raised. Raised means something was lifted off the ground, not dropped to the ground!
As with most English speakers who don’t know to use spatter with blood droplets, and don’t know to use hanged when describing someone lynched, the word razed somehow escapes many native speakers’ notice. And although I believe people should be masters at their native tongue (unlike most public school graduates or their English teachers today who cannot read their own diplomas), it’s reasonable that we don’t know razed if we’ve only heard the word said but never seen it.
Note: I’m all for homonyms! I enjoy working with two words that sound the same but have different meanings. To use two homonyms in one sentence is too exciting but three is even more so!
What I don’t see the need for is a pair of homonyms that mean exactly the opposite of each other! Razed is not only a homonym of raised but it’s the antonym too! They have opposite meanings and can only cause trouble, big trouble, Trouble with a capital T!
Note: Did I just find a unique grammar twist that, until now, had never been discovered? Razed and raised might just be the only homonym pair in the entire English grammar that are also antonyms!
Out with the confusing clutter!
It’s my dream that some day, all of us will have raised up, hung our heads high, and splattered those troublesome terms spatter, hanged, and razed right out of here!